A conversation with the London-based writer, stylist and art director
Originally from Sweden, David Hellqvist has been immersed in the London menswear scene for over 2 decades. We chat to the writer, stylist and art director about his unique journey so far, from his earlier days in fashion retail to writing for Dazed & Port Magazine, and more recently setting up his very own agency — Document Studios.
You originate from Sweden, but you’ve been living in London for over two decades. What was that move like and what attracted you to London?
I came over from Sweden quite young, this was just over 20 years ago. It was a big step up from small-town Sweden to big ol’ London: on the Tuesday my mum was doing my laundry and on the Wednesday I was paying council tax. In my hand I had a list of shops to go to. I can’t remember how I’d got hold of the names, and some of them turned out to be duds but quite a few confirmed what I had suspected on the plane over: I was home.
Had you been before and did you know anyone here?
No, never been and didn’t know anyone. Using an A-Z map I walked around Soho, ticking off seminal stores like Pineal Eye and Shop on Brewer Street, before making my way over to Shorts Gardens in Covent Garden and the place that helped define everything I loved at the time, and still do to a certain degree: Duffer of St George.
How did you find your way into the industry you are working in to this day?
I ended up working in stores the first few years of life in London, and it was essentially like going to ‘fashion school’ because I learnt so much, and met so many people, working in the likes of Burro, Browns and Dover Street Market. One aspect I find many people in this industry lack is understanding the real and actual value of clothes — nowhere is that clearer than on a shopfloor with the tills ringing around you. And since then my outlook on menswear has been defined by functional realism as opposed to dreams of decadence.
How did you go from there to work for Dazed and Port Magazine and to, more recently, setting up your own creative content agency?
Once I enrolled in university to study journalism, I combined that skill with my experience ‘in fashion’ and the contacts I’d made, and all of a sudden I had graduated (into the recession) as a bonafide ‘fashion journalist’. Via an MA degree from Goldsmiths in Arts & Politics, I ended up editing Dazed & Confused’s website, Dazed Digital. I learnt loads but realised the Dazed audience wasn’t mine I moved over to Port Magazine and finally found myself writing about the kind of fashion, music, art and food I was into myself.
And what about Document Studios?
Somewhere along the line I got a bit tired and bored of traditional media though, and my focus moved to working straight with the brands I liked as opposed to through a magazine. Document Studios was born out of a desire to create authentic and believable brand content. It was the age of the advertorial and I just think that most consumers and readers are clever enough to see through all of that.
It seems you’ve built a multi-disciplinary approach to storytelling, as you don’t just write but also specialise in styling and art direction. What is always your intention to broaden your skill set, and ultimately be able to present a more rounded offering?
Yes, so I started out as a writer, moved into editing, and then started styling. It came from a desire to be closer to the garments I was writing about. In theory I could have done that from another country but when it comes to putting together a look you have to be in the room, touching the clothes. My writings were based on my own personal style and taste, and I enjoy putting that into a 3D context. These days I’m as much an art director as a stylist, and I enjoy working on the bigger picture, so to speak, rather than just the outfit.
What kind of work do you do through Document Studios?
In the beginning we published quite a few printed Documents — we did books for Timberland, GAP, Lee Cooper and Kickers – but today the narrative is predominately digital of course. Which is fine by me; storytelling isn’t about the format; it’s about finding a voice which is true to you and understood by the audience.
What are some of your clients?
We work with a wide array of brands, such as C.P. Company, Raeburn, Osprey, Burberry, Universal Works and Drake’s on everything from campaigns to editorial projects and live events. What excites me, except for working so hands-on with product, is having wide variation of daily tasks: one day I’m shooting bags in Morocco, the next I’m co-editing an anniversary book for a Danish brand turning 20, or casting fly fishers in Wales for an Italian sportswear brand, or art directing a portraits for a British eyewear brand, or just walking around my local area looking for surprising places to shoot in, I love doing that.
Take a look at David's selection of pre-owned pieces from the likes of Drake's, Visvim and Gitman Vintage.
Images by Graeme Gaughan.